UC Davis law school dean wins national award. Diversity is at the heart of the honor

The dean of the UC Davis School of Law has won a new national award that recognizes his efforts to diversify the law program.

On Nov. 28, the Association of American Law Schools announced that Dean Kevin R. Johnson would receive the inaugural Michael A. Olivas Award for Outstanding Leadership in Diversity and Mentoring in the Legal Academy. Multiple people nominated Johnson for the award, and he was selected unanimously.

The honor, the association said, is given for “devotion to mentoring junior and aspiring faculty from underrepresented communities and promoting diversity, inclusion and equity in the legal academy.” It is named for a law professor who died earlier this year after a long career of vociferously advocating for colleagues who were women and people of color.

“For decades, Dean Kevin Johnson has exemplified Michael Olivas’s dedication to uplifting the next generation of diverse leaders in legal education.” said Anthony Varona, the University of Seattle School of Law dean who chaired the selection committee.

The award will be presented on Jan. 5 at the AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego.

Under Johnson’s leadership since 2008, the Davis law school faculty is now majority minority. This stands in stark contrast to law schools across the country: According to a paper published in the Clinical Legal Education Association Newsletter, in 2020, nearly 80% of full-time law faculty were white.

Johnson joined the faculty of UC Davis in 1989. He was hired alongside a Latino man and a Black woman, and, as he wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he learned that before they were hired, the faculty had been all-white.

As the dean at Davis, Johnson also started a speaking series focused on racial justice. In November, he announced the decision to withdraw the school from U.S. News & World Report rankings. He wrote that in addition to other problems, “The U.S. News rankings discourage law schools from enrolling more diverse student bodies and do not in any way value more diverse law faculties.”

The sections of the law school association focused on civil rights, education law, immigration law, minority groups and student services were involved in the award selection process.